Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Reflections on Chestnut Avenue

Now that the trees on Chestnut Avenue have been felled and replaced with a new avenue of small-leafed limes I want to explain why I think the outcome is the best possible for Tooting Common.  Green space is very important in our large city and we are lucky in Wandsworth to have so much of it on our doorstep.  Managing these spaces for current users and protecting it for future generations are important tasks for the Council.

The Avenue

Chestnut Avenue was a beautiful feature of Tooting Common which had been cherished by locals for over a hundred years.  It is generally accepted that some of these trees had succumbed to disease; some had already fallen down and it is likely that at the very least the others would need serious remedial work or felling in order to prevent danger to the public.  It is possible that not all of the trees would have been affected by the disease and could have survived as wonderful specimens for another generation.  It is equally possible that the disease could have spread.  Either way I think it is accepted that the character of the avenue was changing.

This process of caring for, clearing and replanting trees would lead eventually from a formal, uniform feature to a less formal, more random array of fewer but nevertheless fine trees.  Many who have commented on the Council’s actions have no doubt contemplated this outcome and would have been happy with a more naturalistic appearance in order to save those trees that might have been saved.  I respect this viewpoint and note the many contributions from notable tree experts who recommended this course of action.  I don’t want to dispute their views as I am not nearly as knowledgeable as them.  The point is that this course of action would not have maintained an avenue.

The Heritage Lottery Fund and the Council took the view that clearing all the trees in order to plant new, healthy trees that will form a uniform avenue, resistant to disease, would be the best way of preserving the feature for future generations.  Those who accept the naturalistic outcome will never agree that this was the right thing to do and I understand that.  However, I feel that making a sacrifice of our present enjoyment of a dwindling resource that was Chestnut Avenue in order to create a wonderful feature for the future was a worthwhile sacrifice to make.  It is so rare, nowadays, for truly long-term investments of this nature to be made.  The Victorians did this all the time knowing that what they planted would not fully be enjoyed in their lifetimes.  Chestnut Avenue itself is one such example.  They cleared away an Elizabethan avenue of oak trees which was no doubt in decline in order to create the avenue we have enjoyed.  We thank them for it and don’t recall any objections that may have been made at the time.  I strongly hope and believe that future locals will feel this way about the new avenue.

Why now?

There is an argument that replanting could have been deferred until the natural lives of all the trees on the avenue had passed.  That would only have been possible if the funding to plant a new avenue could be guaranteed at some unspecified time in the future.  Of course this isn’t possible.  We have been extremely lucky to have a grant available just when it was needed.  On that basis it was the sensible option to take the money and fix the problem now.  I make no apologies for supporting this prudent decision.  That is how Wandsworth Council gets best value for residents’ money.

The politics

I don’t wish to rake over the process by which we arrived at this point.  A lot of words have already been written about the petition; the disputed consultation; the switch from support to opposition by Labour councillors.  It was apparent to me that many felt the Council wasn’t listening but I and my colleagues must have read nearly every article and tweet on this very sensitive issue.  I do understand the fact that opponents were motivated more by the desire to preserve what we had than by the legacy we will now endow. 


Whilst we may have disagreed, I believe both sides were motivated by a wish for what is best for Tooting Common.  There are many other reasons that the Council took the decision it did but I hope I have explained adequately why I support the action taken.  I also hope that as the new avenue takes shape locals will come to love it.

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